Best Options for Eco Upgrades for Virtually Any Budget

Philip P.

Writer, traveler and freelancer who enjoys his garden in the spare time. I have a strong interest in ecology and sustainability and I believe that the global changes can happen one small step at a time.

Posted on Monday 2nd April 2018

Anything you can do to make your home more energy efficient will reduce the energy you use. Not only does using less save you money, it also cuts the emissions from gas and coal-fired power plants that are major contributors to a warming climate. Solutions for slowing climate change are within reach for virtually any budget.

Budgets Less Than $300

  • Air sealing. One of the easiest ways to make your home more energy efficient and eco-friendly is to seal all its air leaks in its exterior shell. Look for cracks and gaps around window frames and daylight that seeps in around exterior doors. Places where hoses, wires and cables enter often have air leaks, as well as dryer vents and plumbing pipes inside cabinets. The easiest and most accurate way to find air leaks is to schedule an energy audit from a licensed energy auditor.
    Caulk, expanding foam and weatherstripping will seal most leaks. If you find gaps around flues or chimneys, use metal flashing, or contact a professional to seal them using heat-resistant materials. If you do the job yourself, be sure the materials you select are appropriate. Look for expanding foams that are safe to use around electrical wires or heat-tolerant products to use around dryer, furnace and water heater vents.

  • Do-it-yourself shade screens. Unless you have ample summertime shade on south- and west-facing windows, consider assembling your own shade screens to block the heat that comes through the glass from sunlight. Some of the shade screen kits block up to 90 percent of the heat emanating from sunshine. The screens attach to the outside of the window, which is the best place to block the incoming heat. The screen won’t block your view outdoors, and it adds privacy during daylight hours.

  • Change the light bulbs. If you haven’t already, swap out the incandescent light bulbs in your home with LEDs or CFLs. Of the two, LEDs emit less heat and last longer, especially in fixtures that you turn on and off frequently. Don’t use an LED or CFL bulb in an oven or microwave, since neither can handle the heat.

Budgets under $3,000

  • Add attic insulation. Dollar for dollar, nothing has a higher payback than adding insulation to the attic. Besides blocking heat transfer, insulation is a highly durable product. The U.S. Department of Energy developed a map that indicates the minimum acceptable levels of attic insulation across the U.S., along with the amount they recommend for an energy efficient home.
    Attic insulation is so important because this part of the home has exposure to the weather 24/7. Since heat rises and cold temperatures fall, the attic experiences extreme temperature swings summer and winter. Adequate insulation prevents those temperatures from seeping into your home through the ceilings. Alternatively, if you can’t afford this, the next best thing to have a look at is your garage - cold air coming through the walls and especially garage doors can leave quite a mark on your energy bill. For this reason, make sure to at least do a regular door maintenance, to make sure everything fits tightly.

  • Change out the windows. While adding shade screens to windows will block summertime heat from the sun, the screens won’t block all the heat transfer. If you place your hand on a window when it’s hot or cold outdoors and feel a temperature difference, a new thermal or Energy Star window will save your energy dollars. New windows are an investment, but besides lowering energy costs, they add value to your home and make it quieter. Depending on the number, size and quality of the windows you choose, the cost may exceed $3,000.

  • Install energy efficient landscaping. If you plan to stay in your home for the foreseeable future, consider planting deciduous trees and shrubs to help manage your home’s temperatures. The plants will shade the house during the summer and passively heat it in the winter. Properly placed, landscaping will add street appeal to your home and increase its value. Look for native plants to minimize the amount of water and care they need. Choose fast growing plants to take advantage of the energy efficiency that landscaping offers more quickly.

  • Choose Energy Star appliances. The DOE’s Energy Star program makes it easy to select high-efficiency appliances when you need to replace refrigerators, water heaters, washing machines, washers and dryers, dishwashers and swimming pool pumps. When you see the Most Efficient label along with the Energy Star designation, you’re getting an exceptionally efficient appliance that exceeds the requirements for the Energy Star program.

Budget greater than $3,000

  • Put on an energy efficient roof. Stopping temperature change in your home is the best approach to energy management, and a new, Energy Star roof can help do just that. These roofing products include metal materials, coatings for flat roofs, and asphalt shingles. Look for the Energy Star rated roofing products for each of these types. To earn the designation, the products have to demonstrate that they reflect a substantial amount of heat away from the roof. A cooler roof lowers air conditioning costs. Even in cold climates, cool roofs are preferable. A warm attic prompts snow melt in the winter, which eventually will cause dangerous and destructive ice dams.

  • Upgrade the HVAC. Older, inefficient heating and cooling systems increase energy costs substantially. If yours is due for a replacement, consult an HVAC professional to learn about new systems that pay for themselves in lower energy bills summer and winter. Furnaces, especially, have come a long way and some are nearly 100 percent efficient.

  • Install solar panels. Why not add solar panels to your roof and take advantage of generous federal tax credits at the same time. Today’s panels generate electricity even in cloudy conditions to power some or all of your home’s appliances. If you’re really serious about this (and your budget allows it), consider the combo of Tesla solar roof and their Powerwall home battery. Pricey at first, it’s sure to pay off in the long run.

Bottom Line

Each of these solutions will help you save energy without having to change the thermostat or deny yourself the conveniences that appliances offer. Even small, incremental savings add up and contribute to a healthier planet.



test image for this block